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Hachiko had cancer, Japanese scientists find

Seventy-five years after his death, scientists say they have determined what killed Hachiko, the legendary Akita whose story has been immortalized in his native Japan and the rest of the world.

Japan’s most famous dog — though rumors have persisted for decades that worms did him in, or that he swallowed a chicken skewer that ruptured his stomach — had heart and lung cancer, scientists now say.

Hachiko became legendary for the loyalty he showed by waiting for his owner every day at a train station — for 10 years after his master died.

Hachiko died in 1935 at the age of 13. After his death, researchers at what is now the University of Tokyo performed an autopsy on Hachiko’s body and discovered roundworms in his heart and liquid collected in his abdomen.

Using more sophisticated tests like MRI’s,  the Mainichi Daily News reports, a team of scientists at the University of Tokyo team analyzed Hachiko’s preserved organs and discovered large cancers in the heart and lungs. They speculated that the cancer may have spread from the lungs to the heart. Hachiko also had filariasis (a worm-caused diseased), and it’s possible that could have caused his death as well, said professor Hiroyuki Nakayama, part of the research team.

Hachiko’s preserved organs are displayed at a University of Tokyo resource center in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, along with a bust of his owner. A “stuffed” Hachiko is also on display at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo’s Taito Ward. A statue of Hachiko was erected in his honor at Shibuya Station.

Hachiko accompanied his owner, a university professor named Eisaburo Uyeno, to the train station every day and watched him leave for work. Every evening the dog would be waiting for him when he returned. When Uyeno died, Hachiko continued going to the train station every day to wait for his master for about ten years.

The legend has been told in numerous forms in the 75 years since, most recently as a childrens’ book and a 2009 movie remake, re-set in Rhode Island, starring Richard Gere.


Comment from Anne’n’Spencer
Time March 2, 2011 at 7:26 pm

It would be interesting to get a vet to comment further on the filariasis. I think (but I’m not sure) that’s the proper term for “heartworms.” I know that when we were adopting Spencer, we waited anxiously for his blood test to be free of microfilaria, which are one of the life stages of the heartworm. When they were no longer present, he was heartworm-free. I wonder if the heartworms, if that’s what they were, could have caused Hachiko to develop cancer of the heart.

Comment from jemma
Time March 2, 2011 at 7:59 pm

i think hachiko is very inspirational

Comment from Sean
Time March 3, 2011 at 6:09 pm

@ Anne’n’Spencer – I lost my buddy Ten to a bad case of heartworms last Thanksgiving Day. I think it’s safe to say that even if they’d cause cancer (which I don’t believe they do), untreated heartworms will kill long before the cancer could have time to develop.
Ten had previously been treated for the early stage of heartworms. Unfortunately the vet didn’t check for them the second time. Ten had developed a cough which the vet thought was being caused by a combo of his collar and the plastic cone from the vet. Turns out it was the heartworms restricting blood flow. Within 3 days, my buddy was gone.

Comment from Anne’n’Spencer
Time March 4, 2011 at 12:04 am

Sean, I’m so sorry! It’s devastating to lose your friend like that, and I know how much you must miss him.

My understanding of heartworms is very limited. I do know that they require several treatments during the life cycle. I’ve heard of dogs developing cancer in their lungs as it spreads from some other region, but haven’t ever heard of a dog developing it in the heart, as Hachiko did.

I am absolutely certain that Ten knew how much you cared about him and that he will continue to live on in your memory!

Comment from smoketoomuch
Time March 7, 2011 at 4:04 pm

I’m not entirely certain that Hachiko’s actual cause of death is really all that relevant, especially now, after all these decades have passed. Interesting facts to know perhaps, but are they really germane to the actual dog, and his life story? The real press and publicity value here is not in the cause of this beloved creature’s death, but rather in his love, loyalty, and devotion to his master. As such he stands, or should stand, as a beacon to all of the “it’s just a dog” people out there. To those who would laud the likes of Michael Vick for his football prowess while discounting his abject cruelty to innocent and defenseless souls who, under less horrific circumstances, might have loved a member of another species as every bit as much as Hachi did.

Comment from Dusan
Time November 18, 2011 at 11:11 pm

We have one nice akita, similar to Hachiko from the film. Knows somebody, if the dog actor is still living?